Sci-Fi fans woke up to a pleasant surprise Sunday morning with the announcement of the newest actor to take up the mantle of The Doctor on the hit BBC show “Doctor Who.” Rwandan actor Ncuti Gatwa will step up to the plate as the 14th doctor.
Best known for playing the role of Eric Effiong in the Netflix series “Sex Education,” Gatwa’s ascension to the role marks the debut of the first time that a Black actor will lead the show. It’s an important distinction as the first Black Doctor to grace the screen is Jo Martin, who was previously introduced as the Fugitive Doctor, the first incarnation of the Doctor that predates the ones presented in the series.
“A mix of deeply honoured, beyond excited and of course a little bit scared,” Effiong said about the role. “This role and show means so much to so many around the world, including myself, and each one of my incredibly talented predecessors has handled that unique responsibility and privilege with the utmost care. I will endeavour my utmost to do the same.”
He’s a talented young actor who will bring his brilliance to the Doctor Who franchise. Gatwa has been nominated for best male performance in a comedy programme at the BAFTA TV Awards for the past three years. In 2020, he won the award for Best Actor at the Scottish BAFTAs.
While there was some speculation that Martin’s Fugitive Doctor could take over as the 14th Doctor, having Gatwa step into the role makes space for both actors as the show enters a new season.
Given his award-winning wit, charm, and humor, viewers will be in for a real treat as they journey through space and time with the new Doctor. For those unfamiliar with “Doctor Who,” the Doctor comes from a race known as the Time Lords according to cannon. Although the introduction of Martin’s Fugitive Doctor suggests the character may have a different origin story. The Doctor has two hearts and the power to regenerate into a new form of themselves instead of simply dying.
“Doctor Who” is the longest-running sci-fi series, spanning several decades. The original program aired between 1963 and 1989 and then relaunched in 2005.
Black franchise fans have been waiting for a Black actor to lead the show. Several great Black actors have stepped into the role as companions. Characters like Martha Jones (played by Freema Agyeman), Bill Potts (played by Pearl Mackie) and Ryan Sinclar (played by Tosin Cole) brought a different dynamic to the show as companions to their respective doctors.
After the franchise introduced Jodie Whittaker as the first woman to play the title character, there was no way it could go back to simply being another round of white men. But more importantly, expanding the representation of actors playing the Doctor and their loyal companions bring diversity and richness to the storytelling.
As per usual, there are likely to be white fans who balk at the change. But this is a character that changes their physical characteristics and age to regenerate their life force. If any character should be depicted with the range of diversity in the known universe, it’s undoubtedly the Doctor.
“Doctor Who” is a fantastical escapade into the unknown but often touches on many relatable themes and storylines. Across multiple seasons, fans watched working-class characters come to life on the big screen as they journey with the Doctor through fantastical adventures to the ends of the known universe and beyond.
And for this journalist, it was a lovely Mother’s Day surprise to see Gatwa’s name and picture along with the announcement. Sci-fi is a family pastime in our family. My father would make us watch episodes of the original series from his childhood.
When BBC relaunched the show, three generations of our family watched along — looking forward to seeing Gatwa in action when the 14th Doctor debuts in 2023.